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Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Prince

by Danielle L. Parker

“Two buckets of ashes out of that fireplace, and it’s only the first on the list today!” The blonde woman flung her broom away angrily, her lovely blue eyes narrowed in frustration. She rubbed a grimy hand across her face, sweeping back the hair that might have been called golden once beneath its dusting of soot. “If I have to do any more *#@$)(! cinder collection today, I’ll...”

CLANG! The bell on the kitchen wall beside her rang demandingly. Cinderella jumped involuntarily. Glancing up, she scowled. It was Hateful’s bedroom bell. “Oh, oh. Time to deliver two plates of eggs and blood sausages,” she snarled. CLANG!!! The second bell beside it began to vibrate furiously. “And THAT will be Spiteful’s call for her breakfast. Whether she gets her eggs boiled, fried, basted, or scrambled today, she WON’T like them. And I’ll be fetching and carrying for them all day today for that ball they’re going to tonight...”

And it was indeed so. Exhausted, Cinderella retired to the kitchen as the stepsisters and their mother at last rattled away into the dusky night. She collapsed on the hearth next to her faithful sheepdog, Buster. “I’ve got to get out of this trap,” she told him in disgust. “I’ve broken two nails today.” She narrowed her eyes in thought. “I think I need a rich man. Any ideas, Buster?”

The sheep dog woofed sympathetically. Cinderella got up and paced, rubbing her sore backside absently. “I’ve got to stop sitting on the stairs while I’m cleaning them.” She took a few turns around the gloomy kitchen, frowning in thought. “You know, Buster,” she said finally, “There’s got to be fairy blood in the family somewhere. After all, Great Great Grandmother used to own a flying carpet. Great Great Grandpa tried to hush it up, but it was rumored she had a genie lover.” Cinderella sighed. “I suppose it can’t hurt. I’ll try it.”

It took her until her throat was nearly raw, but after several good hearty shouts, a small woman suddenly appeared in the air in a twinkling glow of pastel pink dust. The elderly fairy peered at the woman nearsightedly. “I’m not deaf, dear,” she chastised a little indignantly. “There’s no need to shout for me!” She hovered in the air, looking at her purported relative doubtfully. “I must say, dear, I don’t keep up on fashion well any more. I don’t know when soot and creosote came into style. And, dear, that apron... are you sure we’re, um, associated, my dear?”

The blonde woman said crossly, “Absolutely certain, um...”

“Barbara, dear,” the fairy murmured kindly. “I understand, the younger generation can be so forgetful.”

“I need a dress, Babs,” Cinderella explained politely. “Something that will knock the eyes out of the male gender. And while you’re at it, I need a bath. Haven’t had much time for it today. I’m going to a ball tonight.”

Her benefactor brightened immediately. “My specialty, dear! I guarantee no gentleman can resist you in one of my special creations.” She seemed to swell with pride. There was a sudden tinkle of fairy music, rather like a music box running down, and the dimming kitchen room brightened in a shower of starry light. “There, dear. You look lovely.”

The blonde woman looked down doubtfully. “I don’t think it’s the style exactly, Godmother.”

Her diminutive relative flushed angrily. “Nonsense, dear. Why, this style is a classic. The Marilyn Monroe halter dress, to the life!” She fluttered her tiny wings indignantly. “I assure you, I have never been wrong before! My fashion sense is impeccable!”

Cinderella was still doubtfully adjusting. “Yeah, well, maybe the subtle approach isn’t such a good idea anyway. I don’t have a lot of time to close this deal. I just hope nothing swings out in the dancing... Alright. Umm... do you think you could arrange some transportation?”

There was a pop, and suddenly, Cinderella found herself outside on the road. Something about the coach looked a little suspicious, rather like a vegetable, and it was clear that Buster was now manning the reins, albeit grandly dressed in a rhinestone studded suit with excessively wide lapels. As Cinderella surveyed the scene, Buster looked back at her mournfully, blinking his pale sheep-dog eyes beneath the rim of his overhanging hair.

Cinderella sighed. Babs, clearly offended, had already vanished. There was no help for it. She climbed up in the coach. There was indeed a distinct pumpkin odor, even if the smell was not unpleasant. “Cut-rate fairy godmother,” she muttered unhappily. “Reusing available components. Drive on, Buster,” she commanded. “We have some gold-digging to do tonight. Head for that castle.” Adjusting the red dress, she leaned back in the seat, flicking a seed out of her way as she did so.

The driver, however, seemed to be having a little difficulty. The blonde woman, soon noticing a distinct darkening outside, leaned her head out the window. There was a large, ornate, ancient gate in front of her, and twining over its iron bars in a sinister fashion, a thicket of slightly restless vines. She stared. There was a young man in front of the gate, hacking somewhat helplessly at the waving greenery.

“Hold it, Buster,” she called. “This looks like a Prince.”

It did indeed seem to be. The prince ceased his work immediately, obviously grateful for a rest. Cinderella studied him with narrowed eyes as she alighted. He was grandly dressed in silks that were now somewhat torn and muddied, and seemed to be harboring a blister or two on his soft palms. He looked at the red dress doubtfully.

“Er,” he said. “I’m not sure if you’re supposed to be a good fairy or a wicked one. In any case,” he cheered up visibly, “You’re just in time. I need some help with this thicket. It’s proving a little difficult to cut through.”

Cinderella looked up. Looming high above in the darkened night sky was the ominous shape of an antique castle. “I get it,” she said. “Sleeping Beauty, eh?” She gestured at the nearest vine, which was now reaching greedily for the prince. “Better move away a little, I think that one’s about to get you.”

The prince jumped nervously. “I was about to give up,” he confessed. “I’ve been at it for fifteen minutes, and I haven’t been able to cut through one vine.” He looked dejected as he dropped his golden axe at his feet.

Cinderella cleared her throat pointedly. Clearly, this was a dimwit of the first order. She put her hand in her dress pocket. There was something in it — she drew it out and clicked it. A small flame appeared at the end of the strange cylinder.

“Here you go,” she said. “Should do to get you started.” The thorny vine drew back in alarm. “Just set a good fire and then follow it in. The castle’s stone. I don’t think you’ll hurt it.” She handed the young man the instrument. “Don’t thank me.”

The prince turned in jubilation. Cinderella, nodding in approval, watched him wielding the small flame. He might not be good at vine cutting, but he was clearly competent at setting fires. “Used to play with matches,” he explained happily over his shoulder. “I’ll see you get a wedding invitation, Miss... um...” But the crackling flames muffled his next words.

There was a pop. Cinderella, looking up, spotted a small lavender fairy hovering in the air by her face. The old lady’s lips were compressed sternly.

“I don’t think that was quite fair,” she said disapprovingly. “I mean, he is supposed to hack through the thicket himself.”

“Yeah, well, have you told him he’s going to get an 118-year old bride?” the blonde woman replied amiably. “You’re not giving him a fair deal either.” She glanced after the prince’s boyish figure, which was now lost in the thickening smoke. “I mean, I don’t think he even has a beard yet.”

“I don’t think this in the rules, my dear.” The Lavender Fairy seemed to be working up a genuine steam; puffs were coming from her wand. “I must say, I think you are most out of line...”

“You’ve got bigger problems than a little rule-bending,” Cinderella advised kindly. “Think about it. Who’s going to kiss a girl with 100-year old morning breath? I think you’d better get up there and do something about that before he makes the castle.”

The Lavender Fairy gasped. “I never thought about that. Thank you, my dear, I’ll take care of that problem right away!”

“Wait,” Cinderella called quickly. “I’ve got a problem you can help me with. My Fairy Godmother turned my dog Buster into the coachman. The poor pooch can’t see well. Could you do something about that?” She shook her head. “I’m running out of time, and I don’t want to call on Baba Yaga tonight by accident.”

The Lavender Fairy, already fading, reappeared. She beamed. “Of course, my dear!” There was a sprinkle of starry light and tinkle of slightly off-key music, and suddenly, as Cinderella watched, Buster’s overhanging hair shrank backwards. The dog’s weak red eyes, newly revealed, blinked painfully. They were already watering.

Cinderella muttered a few choice curses. “Thanks for nothing,” she said to the now empty air. She climbed back inside the coach resignedly. “Drive on, Buster, and if you can... make for that castle?”

The coach started forward with a lurch. Cinderella, leaning out, noticed they were passing over a narrow wooden bridge. In the moonlight, as she craned over the windowsill, she could see a large green frog below on a rock.

“I’m really a Prince in disguise, dear lady,” the amphibian called hopefully. “Alight and kiss me!”

Cinderella sneered. “Not falling for that one, Rubber Lips,” she called as she slammed shut the window. Shaking her head, she sat back. The coach rumbled on.

She soon heard the sounds of great revelry. As the coach drew up, she stepped down with a hopeful smile. There was clearly a party going on, a very lively one; the sounds of an oompah band boomed wildly in the night. Her smile faded. “Sounds like we’ve wandered into Bavaria somehow,” she said grimly. “However, that does sound like a party in there. Maybe the Prince imported some foreign musicians.” She walked up to the door and opened it doubtfully.

The sound of the accordion, the clash of smashing beer steins, and a girl’s high pitched squeal wafted into the night air more loudly. Against the thud of dancing feet she could hear the deep ho-ho-ho of many male voices. Cinderella slammed the door and came back down the steps, shaking her head. “This is supposed to be a children’s tale. We won’t go there!” She sighed contemptuously. “Like, really the wrong person to call Snow White. I always thought seven dwarves and one girl was highly suspicious.”

The sheep dog hung his head in repentance as Cinderella climbed up beside him. “I’ll do the driving now, thank you,” she ordered, taking the reins. There was, as she examined her mounts, something a little strange about them too: they seemed to have very long front teeth. “Mice,” she decided in disgust. “Well, move over, Buster. I’m about to miss my date.”

Wielding the whip firmly, the coach turned at last toward the glistening white castle in the distance. Cinderella took her eyes off her destination briefly as she spotted a red-haired maiden in a woodland glade dancing with a large lumbering bear. “Rose Red and a bear,” she muttered. “Well, I suppose that’s her problem.”

“Beautiful lady,” called a suave voice from the side of her coach, “Could I interest you in a duet tonight?”

Cinderella did not pause. “Sorry, Puss,” she replied. “You’re a handsome tomcat, but you should have kept the ogre’s castle for yourself. Handsome is as handsome does, and I’m tired of cleaning fireplaces.” She winked at the dashing feline as she passed. “Call on me after I’ve got my tiara, okay?”

The cat bowed understandingly, his fine boots gleaming in the moonlight as he made his leg. Cinderella looked up at the castle. It was quite close now, and she could see an overhanging balcony, and in it, a thin young man, who seemed to be yearning up into the moonlight. She drew rein abruptly and studied him.

“Full stop!” she muttered to herself. “Looks like Young Werther.” She appraised him for several long minutes before she climbed down.

“FAIRY GODMOTHER,” she called loudly. “Um... Babs. BARBARA!”

It took several more calls, but her reluctant relative finally appeared. She looked distinctly displeased.

“I was in the middle of tea, dear,” she explained. Indeed, she had half a bitten cookie in her free hand. “What seems to be the trouble, my child? Nice dress, by the way.”

Cinderella pointed. “Look at him, Fairy Godmother. No beard. Thick glasses. No muscles. Looks like he reads too much.” She sighed. “Looks like this Marilyn Monroe dress would turn him into a puddle of quivering jelly, and not in the right way.”

The fairy turned and followed the direction of her pointing finger. “He does seem a little weedy for a prince,” she agreed doubtfully. “Are you sure you want him, my dear? I’ve a goodly supply of princes, even a king or two, if...”

Cinderella snorted. “Look at the size of that castle, Granny, and don’t ask stupid questions. I don’t have much time.” She gestured to herself. “You need to get the dress right this time, Okay? Nothing red. White. Demure. Bridal. Sweet sixteen. Have you got it?”

The fairy brightened. “My specialty, dear!” With a wave of her wand, she cast her sparkling dust. There there was a pop of air, and she vanished. The cookie, forgotten, fell to the ground.

Cinderella sighed, examining herself critically. “Looks good except for the slippers,” she decided finally. “One dance, that’s all I’ll be able to stand in those things. I’ll be lucky to get up the steps.” She fluffed her blonde hair and emerged into the moonlight, standing demurely on the first of the great grand steps below the prince’s balcony vantage.

The prince looked down. His beardless lip quivered. His glasses slipped and steamed. And...

The rest, of course, is Fairy Land history. They Lived Happily Ever After... at least I think so, and neither Cinderella nor Puss In Boots ever said otherwise.

Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author

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